Article Written by Catherine Cheong, Copywriter at Verztec Consulting
Now that the internet has become a permanent fixture of modern life, companies can no longer market their products and services in the same way as they used to. The internet has changed how information is received and how people expect to communicate with other individuals and groups. It follows that the way that promotional messages are disseminated has to adapt accordingly.
To start with, information flow is no longer one way. We are no longer passive recipients of advertisements and other marketing materials. If we do not like a product or service, we can inform the whole world through the World Wide Web. Instead of telling people what to expect or prefer, companies now have to interact with potential customers and respond to them.
Therefore, new tactics have to be deployed to ensure your company is reaching out effectively to its target market.
On the Internet, people want to talk to another person, not a company. Marriott CEO Bill Marriott has an entertaining blog in which he posts regular updates and stories from his travels to Marriott properties around the world.
IBM did not create just one blog. The company created an entire network of blogs by getting its employees to write about what interests them, what they are working on and any other random topic. In this way, IBM provided insight on what happens behind the scene by picking the brains of its employees. Consumers were not only able to feel more involved with the company, they were also given a direct connection with IBM employees. In turn, the employees were able to feel the importance and relevancy of their work and to understand what customers want and value.
With direct and personal access to company personnel come expectations of transparency. If consumers are connecting to real people, they also want the real story, not some marketing speak manufactured for them.
Sun Microsoft CEO, Jonathan Schwartz has a blog that receives 400,000 hits a month. One of the reasons why it was successful was because it was open. Negative comments are allowed along with positive ones. Even the most inane ones were approved. The transparency shown by Schwartz built trust among visitors of his blog and they responded by becoming loyal followers.
Ford was able to leverage on transparency on social media to avert a potential public relations disaster. When the company’s legal department sent out letters to forum owners to request them to stop using Ford trademarks in the materials posted on their website, it caused misunderstandings and ill-feelings towards the company. Fortunately, Ford’s Community Manager Scott Monty was quick to detect these sentiments and manage the issues. He presented Ford’s side of the story and let everyone know what was happening every step of the way as agreements and compromises were ironed out. Despite the internal gaffe, Monty was able to rally the online community around Ford rather than against it.
Showing You Care
Starbucks showed that its customers truly know best with its My Starbucks Idea website.
Suggestions can be submitted to this website for voting by Starbucks consumers. The most popular ones are reviewed by the staff. This is an idea that almost every company has. But Starbucks introduced a fresh spin to it by adding an “Ideas in Action” blog that provides updates on the status of the changes suggested. The blog showed that Starbucks recognized how savvy their consumers are. It exemplified the company’s commitment to continual innovation and to delivering what their customers want.
Comcast was able to show their customers how much they matter through their @comcastcares Twitter account. Run by the affable Bill Gerth instead of a nameless faceless customer service rep, the account provides help and advice to users in need. What Comcast does particularly well is the way it manages customer dissatisfaction through Twitter. Complain about the company and you can be sure you will hear from Gerth and his team immediately, and with warmth and empathy. The comcastcares team presents itself not as a company, but friends who exchange messages regularly with other Twitter users, sometimes with details of their personal life.
People not Products
With the shift from the impersonal to the personal, communications now have to be built around people rather than products. Companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated in engaging and adding value to customers through online communities. On top of a variety of social media platforms, Dell has an island in Second Life. Through the HSBC Business Network, HSBC put entrepreneurs in touch with each other via blogs, videos and online forums.
Making It Fun and Interesting
Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” series on Youtube is legendary. In these videos, the CEO Tom Dickson attempts to blend all kinds of objects in the food processors the company sells. With the fresh and original idea behind the campaign, the low cost videos were a huge hit. They eventually led to a five-fold increase in sales.
At the end of the day, branding is all about creating and maintaining a consistent feeling of familiarity, trust, reliability and confidence with the targeted public. With the paradigm shift in how people use and interact with technology, the rules on how to nurture these feelings have also changed. Will your company be a winner or loser in the Social Media Age? It all depends on how well you continue to engage your customers in your branding.